In an ongoing study of almost 20,000 Danes, a team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen have isolated each individual’s DNA to analyse their specific telomere length – a measurement of cellular aging.
"The risk of heart attack or early death is present whether your telomeres are shortened due to lifestyle or due to high age," says Borge Nordestgaard from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen.
The recent “Copenhagen General Population Study” involved almost 20,000 people, some of which were followed during almost 19 years, and the conclusion was clear: If the telomere length was short, the risk of heart attack and early death was increased by 50 and 25 per cent, respectively.
"That smoking and obesity increases the risk of heart disease has been known for a while. We have now shown, as has been speculated, that the increased risk is directly related to the shortening of the protective telomeres - so you can say that smoking and obesity ages the body on a cellular level, just as surely as the passing of time," says Nordestgaard.
The study also revealed that one in four Danes has telomeres with such short length that not only will they statistically die before their time, but their risk of heart attack is also increased by almost 50 per cent.
"Future studies will have to reveal the actual molecular mechanism by which the short telomere length causes heart attacks," says Nordestgaard, and asks, "Does one cause the other or is the telomere length and the coronary event both indicative of a third - yet unknown - mechanism?"
MEDICA.de; Source: University of Copenhagen